So­nia Khu­rana’s art en­gages with the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of mind, body and gen­der through in­stal­la­tions, videos and per­for­mances

India Today - - THE ARTS - By S. Kal­i­das

She searches for dreams in states of in­som­nia. She hunts for mem­o­ries, res­o­nances and as­so­ci­a­tions in spa­ces shorn of his­tory. She duels with the world by turn­ing her vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties into strate­gies of self-preser­va­tion. With her ex­traor­di­nar­ily en­gag­ing solo ex­hi­bi­tion ‘Oneiric House: Round About Mid­night’ cur­rently be­ing held in an about-to-be de­mol­ished aban­doned house in New Delhi’s tony Jor Bagh lo­cal­ity, So­nia Khu­rana, 46, has emerged as a leading new me­dia artist of our times.

24 Jor Bagh is a house that could have been built in the era just af­ter In­de­pen­dence when New Delhi saw a sort of post-Art Deco phase in ar­chi­tec­ture. Not quite mod­ernist Le Cor­bus­ier (who must have be­gun build­ing in Chandigarh around the same time) but quite dif­fer­ent in taste and form from the colo­nial build­ings of the Bri­tish. The kind of house that, say, Dev Anand would have made in a film like Tere Ghar Ke Saamne (1963) where he played a for­eign-trained ar­chi­tect. In­ci­den­tally, the New Me­dia En­cy­clo­pe­dia de­scribes Khu­rana as “one of a num­ber of In­dian artists who re­ceived their artis­tic train­ing abroad but re­turned to their home coun­try to work”.

The en­tire house—stair­well and kitchen in­cluded—be­comes an ex­ten­sive site in­side which Khu­rana shows her deeply per­sonal and mov­ing opus. The show has been cu­rated by art his­to­rian and mu­seum di­rec­tor Roobina Kar­ode for the Ki­ran Nadar Mu­seum of Art ( KNMA) in as­so­ci­a­tion with Feroze Gu­jral’s Out­set In­dia, which has been pro­vid­ing some crit­i­cal plat­forms for con­tem­po­rary art since its in­cep­tion in 2011. For some years now, this Lodi Gar­den-fac­ing bungalow wait­ing to be pulled down by builders has been given se­ri­ally to art col­lec­tives to hold res­i­den­cies and ex­hi­bi­tions by Gu­jral. Com­pris­ing mu­sic, videos, draw­ings, jot­tings, translights, pho­to­graphs and po­etic text, this ma­jor dis­play of Khu­rana’s works has to be seen with time and respite to be ex­pe­ri­enced fully. “I fell in love with this space when I first saw it and spent a lot of time here over many vis­its to en­vis­age how to in­habit it with my con­cerns. I am so happy that KNMA could help me re­alise this site­spe­cific dream,” says a beam­ing Khu­rana whose works have never been seen on this scale be­fore.

The some­what enig­matic ti­tle comes from the French philoso­pher Gas­ton Bachelard (1884-1962) whose sem­i­nal work The Po­et­ics of Space has be­come a sort of uni­ver­sal ref­er­ence point for film the­o­rists. The term oneiric, mean-

ing per­tain­ing to dreams, here refers to the de­pic­tion of dream-like states, or the use of the metaphor of a dream to com­ment on and an­a­lyse “the dream fac­tory” that is cin­ema. A house, wrote Bachelard, “that has been ex­pe­ri­enced is not an in­ert box. In­hab­ited space tran­scends ge­o­met­ri­cal space”. It is then the Oneiric House—the “space we love.” Round About Mid­night re­calls Miles Davis’s clas­sic de­but al­bum of March 1957. Mu­sic has been an en­dur­ing en­gage­ment with Khu­rana and she uses it with great sen­si­tiv­ity, even main­tain­ing its own in­tegrity, in this ex­hi­bi­tion re­peat­edly.

Khu­rana has trans­formed 24 Jor Bagh into a shrine in­hab­ited by the vir­tual pres­ence of her in­som­niac, classi-


cal mu­sic-lov­ing mother Bindu, her Dhru­pad singer friend Wasi­fud­din Da­gar, the Nor­we­gian sax­o­phon­ist Froy Aa­gre, a Sumi shaman who is chant­ing and dancing in a trance, ants and other pres­ences—some re­vealed, some only felt. You en­ter through what she calls the Pre­lude—the first room—where she has ar­ranged im­age, mu­sic and texts that give you an in­tu­itive in­tro­duc­tion of what is to come. Room II has a se­ries of video and trans­light projections of Khu­rana and her mother sleep­ing fit­fully like twins with Khu­rana’s po­etic text be­ing screened and re­cited. In­som­nia: Like some­one softly sit­ting in­side the brain. Look­ing for lost words… as if her life is be­ing stolen blink by blink.

The work that gives the ex­hi­bi­tion its name is a site-spe­cific in­stal­la­tion. In­side a two-floor high atrium-like space, she has hung an acrylic scale model of the ac­tual house through which a video of hun­dreds of black ants is be­ing pro­jected, mak­ing con­stantly chang­ing—al­most kalei­do­scopic—pat­terns on the floor be­low. Then there is Room VI on the floor above with its lyri­cal two-chan­nel video work ‘Som­nam­bu­list’s Song’. Here, sax­o­phon­ist Aa­gre and Dhru­pad singer Da­gar per­form im­pro­vi­sa­tions around a com­po­si­tion in Raga So­hini. Aa­gre is play­ing seated on a Nor­we­gian seashore as the tide rises in­evitably around her. Da­gar is seated by a lily pond in Delhi, idly singing to him­self as if in eter­nity. Room IX has three video-com­puter an­i­ma­tion works jointly called the ‘Sur­real Pond’. A jewel-like im­age of an ide­alised lily pond di­vided in half and the mir­ror-im­aged is pro­jected on one screen. In two oth­ers, the pond is be­ing emp­tied and re-filled con­stantly with the gur­gling of wa­ter pro­vid­ing what could eas­ily be the purest and the most evoca­tive of sounds.

“Khu­rana has en­gaged beau­ti­fully with the po­et­ics of dwelling and dere­lic­tion,” says Kar­ode, adding, “She uses all—time and space, light and sound— to cre­ate the de­sired ex­pe­ri­ence.” This ex­pe­ri­ence is all the more valu­able be­cause it is im­per­ma­nent. If you miss it, you would never be able to see it again in its en­tirety. The ex­hi­bi­tion is open till March 9 from noon till 8 p.m.

Pho­to­graph by RA­JWANT RAWAT


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